Source LNP, Lancaster, Pa.
Come March when the Lancaster police department next offers potential recruits the opportunity to take its physical fitness test, candidates will get a taste of policing's physical demands thanks to a new agility course.
"It's important for us to be able to show that we're being innovative, we're using new recruiting techniques — things that set us aside from other agencies," Sgt. Todd Grager said Friday as the department showed the course to the media and as part of a kick-off to its recruiting cycle.
Elements include being given a suspect description then quickly exiting a patrol vehicle, climbing over a 5-foot-high wall, crawling under a 2-foot high by 10-foot-long obstacle, climbing through a window, identifying the suspect and dragging a 150-pound dummy for 15 feet — over the span of about 150 yards.
And doing all of that in no more than one minute and 36 seconds.
In the past, recruits had to meet physical standards set by the state's Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission. That has age and gender standards for sit ups, push-ups and runs of 300 meters and 1.5 miles.
Recruits will still have to meet those standards to enter the police academy, but not to qualify for the first step of joining the Lancaster force.
Grager said some candidates had been intimidated by the state standards.
"They can get through this, and we can train them to go through the academy. The process to become a police officer is anywhere between four and six months," Grager said.
Grager said he was unaware of other local or Pennsylvania departments using such an agility course, which is based on the VA Law Enforcement Work Performance Test Course.
Chief Richard Mendez and Mayor Danene Sorace were also on hand for the demonstration, which officers Caitlyn Stallings, 37, and Harry Valverde, 26, each completed in about one minute and nine seconds. (This reporter, 56, completed the course in about one minute and 22 seconds.)
Stallings bumped the last rope as she came out of the crawl portion of the obstacle course, but that would not automatically disqualify someone from becoming a recruit; they would just have to do the course again.
Mendez said he doesn't think it's an easy course, but he hopes it attracts applicants and likes that it's in line with what patrol officers will encounter.
Sorace said, "I think that it's a continuation of some of the other changes that we've been making to our onboarding process. And so for me, it was just continued evolution. we're not changing our standards, we're actually elevating our standards, but this is really an opportunity for candidates to experience more than just sit ups, push-ups and running around a track."
The department is approved for 145 officers but has about 115 and expects about a half-dozen retirements in the coming months.
Sorace said the department is evaluating how many officers are needed, including looking at the volume of calls seeking police assistance.
"We know that we're very fortunate in the City of Lancaster to have a safe city and our call volume has diminished over time," she said.
Sorace said call volume has declined from about 80,000 calls at the end of 2018, when she was first elected, to about 50,000 calls more recently.
Sorace pointed to a number of reasons for the decrease, including code enforcement in housing, community engagement and building up neighborhood leaders.
"We have more people that are participating in crime deterrence and alerting us about things that are happening in their neighborhoods. And also we continue to investigate everything. So, in some communities across Pennsylvania, they're no longer investigating thefts or vandalism," Sorace said. "And we continue to have a really dedicated police department that is very responsive and proactive in responding to the things that they see on
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